There’s plenty more fish on the farm

Torger Børresen and Joop Luten, President and Vice-President of the SEAFOODplus Research Platform, advocate the role of aquaculture in delivering the ideal healthy food for consumers.

None

Torger Børresen and Joop Luten, President and Vice-President of the SEAFOODplus Research Platform, advocate the role of aquaculture in delivering the ideal healthy food for consumers.

The most recent State of the World Fisheries and Aquaculture (SOFIA) publication of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) shows that capture fisheries and aquaculture supplied the world with about 110 million tonnes of food fish in 2006. Of this total, aquaculture accounted for 47%. This figure is expected to grow in the future, fulfilling market needs in a situation where capture fisheries have reached their maximum.

Sustainability

This, however, raises important sustainability issues as to the availability of sufficient fish meal and fish oil supply for aquaculture feed. The introduction of feed from vegetable sources is an alternative, but if protein and lipid composition deviates from the marine sources, it will have a negative impact on both the health of the farmed fish as well as on the final quality and nutritional properties of the product for consumers.

This is a serious challenge for the future expansion of aquaculture and calls for research to develop new feed sources.

More than omega-3

The common recommendation for consumers to eat seafood twice a week is based on the well-known fact that omega-3 fatty acids reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. However, research also snows that seafood may prevent other lifestyle diseases, improve cognitive development and mental health, and may also prevent the development of cancer and allergy. The importance of seafood in the diet is this more far reaching than just the well-known effects of omega-3.

Large integrated FP6 European research projects such as SEAFOODplus have in the last five years contributed to new knowledge about the importance of seafood for consumers’ health and the perception of fish as food, with a particular attention to aquaculture.

But new insights have raised challenging research questions: What are the underlying molecular mechanisms of the observed health effects? What is the beneficial role of important nutrients other than omega-3, like proteins, peptides, amino acids, vitamin D and selenium, all of which are components in seafood? What role can aquaculture play in the production of fish with an ideal nutritional composition as food helping to combat lifestyle related diseases? How can we develop innovative products from farmed fish that will stimulate the consumption of seafood?

More research needed

A holistic approach towards answering the questions raised on designing optimal nutritional farmed fish products with a high eating quality, and its impact on human health, is a challenge and must be addressed. The total feed components comprising lipids, proteins, peptides, amino acids, minerals, vitamins and trace elements must be considered an in-depth studies are needed with respect to the metabolism of various fish nutrients and their effect on the bioactive lever of human health related components in the final product. To test the design of farmed fish with optimal nutritional composition for its health effect, studies will be needed at in vitro and in vivo level involving both animal studies and intervention trials on humans.

Consider the consumer

However, we would miss our final goal of improved consumption of seafood, helping to prevent diseases, if the products from farming with the ideal nutritional composition are not consumed. Therefore, an important additional task for the future is consumer-oriented seafood product development.

Taste and flavour are still dominant determinants for liking or disliking fish. The possibilities for tailor-making sensory properties, taking into account consumer preferences like the taste and flavour of farmed fish, are hardly exploited. Further, it is necessary to give a high priority to the consumer message – seafood is a safe and highly nutritious food.

European research should generate new knowledge of innovatively designed farmed fish, improve the competitiveness of European industries, particularly SMEs, and secure the delivery of seafood to satisfy a steadily growing market for healthy food. It will contribute to the ongoing potential of the food industry to improve human health.

First published in Public Service Review, the opinion magazine for European Parlament members, April 2010.

Marketing Research  

Related content